Shawn Hunwick was tired of answering the same questions.
During the Michigan hockey team’s bye week about a month ago, with storylines scarce, Hunwick heard the same questions day after day. So he had a suggestion.
“Hey, why don’t you write about A.J. Treais?” Hunwick said.
“I don’t know,” Hunwick said with a shrug and a grin. “He’s weird.”
For some reason, the story never made it to print. Yet Hunwick was onto something. No, not that Treais is weird — that’s just one man’s opinion.
Rather, there just wasn’t much else to say about Treais.
At the time, the junior forward had just been through a barren 17-game stretch during which he tallied just three goals.
Outside of the rink, though, life wasn’t quite so desolate. In fact, it was downright flush — with food. So much so that in January, Treais gained more pounds (10) than points (two).
“I was on him about his weight,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Five pounds for a hockey player is like you carrying 25 pounds around your neck. Five pounds just kills you.”
Since then, Treais has shrunk, while his stats have exploded. At Berenson’s urging, he has begun a diet that has helped him shed seven pounds in February (“No Fat Tuesday for me,” he joked).
On the ice, Treais has erupted for 10 points in six games, including the overtime game-winning goal on Saturday, in what has become the best stretch of his college career.
This is the Treais that Berenson recruited, the player on the U.S. Developmental Team — one that included junior forward Chris Brown and senior forward David Wohlberg — who most impressed the Michigan coaches.
The talent never diminished, but he lacked a killer instinct. The perpetually laid-back kid sometimes remained too relaxed on the ice for Berenson’s liking.
“I like the fact that A.J. is maybe easygoing and laid-back,” Berenson said. “But when he puts his uniform on, we need him to jump start. I don’t want the same A.J. that we see carrying his books around here thinking about med school. I want the A.J. that’s got a fire in his belly and can’t wait to get out on the ice and demand the puck.”
Until recently, Treais rarely demanded the puck — he almost hid from it. Treais said he used to go through stretches where he knew that if he shot the puck, it wouldn’t go in.
Compare that to Saturday’s game against Northern Michigan. Senior forward Luke Glendening intercepted the pass in the Wildcat zone, and Treais knew he had a window of about a second to get a pass in space and shoot.
So he demanded the puck with two taps of the stick against the ice, signaling Glendening. The shot, of course, was perfect.
“He’s more confident shooting the puck — (he) knows he can shoot the puck,” Hunwick said. “Before he never wanted to shoot the puck, ever.”
Glendening said he’s sure Treais is “relieved” to finally be living up to expectations. But Treais met Glendening’s expectations before he started scoring goals.
“Obviously, everyone sees the goals and the glitz and the glamour, but he’s been rock-solid defensively,” Glendening said. “He’s one of the plus-minus leaders on this team, playing against the other team’s top line.”
Credit part of that to Glendening. The captain’s play forces linemates to match his grittiness.
That’s been a blessing for Treais. The two combine to make an unusual pair. Glendening’s serious, intense personality would seem to clash with the easy goofiness of Treais.
But the two compliment each other. Glendening can’t help but crack a rare smile when talking about the diminutive forward trying to go after the other team’s biggest player. And Glendening’s fiery passion is manifest in Treais’ on-ice demeanor.
“Just his overall work ethic and compete level — I could say it was probably a seven (out of 10) the first half of the year, but it’s probably closer to a nine right now,” Berenson said. “And that’s why he’s getting results.”
Treais said he doesn’t think his behavior has changed since his hot streak began. And overall, Treais remains an easy, fun presence on the ice. (“I mean, this is college hockey, this isn’t the pros or anything,” Treais said).
The difference in Treais evades portrayal, but Glendening thinks he has it down.
“This is going to be hard to explain, but just bear with me and maybe it’ll flesh out in the end,” Glendening said. “His laid-back (attitude) and the way he plays, that’s kind of just who he is, that’s nothing he can change. But there’s intensity through that. It’s a quiet intensity. He’s not the one yelling, he’s not the one getting on guys, but he’s the one just leading through the way he’s playing, and I think that’s how he’s intense.”
Throughout the season, Treais played plus hockey. But after three years, Treais has finally taken his game to another level, and all it took was a diet and some fire.